Yes, Medical Research Matters in the Real World

An e-newsletter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights an interesting new article in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases showing that from 1998 to 2005 hospitalizations to treat peptic ulcers decreased by a whopping 21%. The reason is that clinicians finally accepted the once-heretical notion that peptic ulcers are generally caused by an infection with a particular bacterium. So, rather than treating peptic ulcers with bland diets and stress relief (as in the middle of the 20th Century) or with drugs to suppress stomach acid production (the 1970s and 1980s), patients take antibiotics to eradicate the offending bacteria. Get rid of the Helicobacter pylori, and the ulcers heal.

It took a while for the medical establishment to take this notion seriously. When Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren of the not-very-famous University of Western Australia first presented studies linking H. pylori to ulcers during the early 1980s, they were criticized when they weren’t ignored. In one effort to prove the point, Dr. Marshall deliberately drank a potion laced with H. pylori, developed ulcers, and then cured himself with antibiotics.

The medical establishment came around, and in 2005 Marshall and Warren won the Nobel Prize for their work. You don’t have to work at Harvard or Stanford to do world-changing work, it’s clear.

More importantly for patients, far fewer of them land in the hospital because their treatments in the community are more effective.

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